As the title might suggest, the eighteenth episode of the second season of Twin Peaks has an overwhelmingly romantic, domestic focus. That’s not to say, exactly, that it matches the burnished warmth of Diane Keaton’s episode, but that it gives itself over to the soapier sides of the series more than nearly any other. Even the plot strands revolving around Windom Earle and the Black Lodge tend to be contained by this romantic arc and ambit, with Earle setting his sights upon the upcoming Miss Twin Peaks pageant as the venue in which to stage his final battle with Agent Cooper. Even as he cycles between Donna, Audrey and Shelley as potential victims, however, it becomes rapidly clear that he must eventually settle upon Annie Blackburn as his target, since this is also the episode most devoted to Cooper and Annie’s burgeoning romance, which comes to define this end of the season (and, for twenty-five years, the end of the series as well).
To call it a burgeoning romance, however, is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, since this is a rapport that both seems to arrive full-formed and to be continually on the verge of happening. In part, that’s because both Annie and Cooper are perpetually incredulous at the freshness, newness and strangeness of the world – “I feel constantly amazed, stunned” – and Twin Peaks in particular, since both arrive in the small town as outsiders. Just as Cooper arrives from the big smoke in the first season, so Annie arrives from her convent here, and her trajectory replicates and coalesces with his in the way as the town provides her with a kind of sensuous and sensory revelation and rehabilitation that becomes utterly indistinguishable from their romance. In other words, Annie and Cooper’s romance is at once a romance with Twin Peaks and with each other, which is perhaps why it also feels mediated through every other character in the town and situation in the series.
As might be expected, that kind of incredible, mystical rapport goes a long way towards grounding and reorienting this latter part of the series, to the point where you could almost say that Annie’s presence single-handedly saves the series (and certainly paves the way for Lynch’s iconic final episode). It feels strangely right, then, that Annie and Cooper’s romance is also mediated through Gordon Cole, who returns in this episode and the next as something of a full-blown character, rather than a kooky cameo from David Lynch. More immediately, it also means that Cooper and Annie are – improbably – even more endearing as a couple than they are individually – not something you can say about many cult television characters – as they draw each other into wonderful, vivid relief: “Some people think I’m strange.” “I know the feeling.” In the process, Annie becomes something of an archetype for 90s and 00s female television characters who were permitted to be romantic and intellectually engaging in the same moment and often reminds me of Rory Gilmore in her wry presence and proximity to American diner culture.
The other great romance in this episode unfolds between Ben Horne and Eileen Hayward – in its own small way, one of strongest moments of this later part of Twin Peaks as well as the very best of Horne’s various rebirth narratives, reinvesting his change of heart and new ethical stance with the same sense of intrigue that made him so compelling as a villain, while also offering a great object for Donna’s investigative tendencies and soul-searching curiosity. Finally, we start to glimpse a more compelling soulfulness from Horne, including a wonderful rapprochement with Audrey (“Daddy, I’m your man”), as things start to coalesce around the Great Northern once again, still charged with static supernatural potential in the wake of Josie’s disappearance at the end of the last episode. At the same time, Horne takes such a hyperbolic relish in doing good and evinces such a manic intensity for ethical causes that it often feels as if he’s come full circle and returned to his earlier, hyperbolic character traits, turning the quest for rightness into a kind of charismatic perversion in itself: “I am filled to the brim with a feeling of goodness, all lit up like a Christmas tree inside.”
Of course, there has to be some development of the overarching narrative arc as well, since we are rapidly starting to approach the end of the season. On the one hand, BOB continues to re-emerge, as it is revealed that Windom Earle and MIKE were taking the same drug to repress their psychopathic tendencies; on the other hand, Cooper, Harry and Andy discover the mysterious petroglyph in Owl Cave, which becomes a dominant space in the next episode. In some ways, this initially feels like one of the strangest turns in the series – almost surreal riff on Indiana Jones – but it will turn out to be critical to the extraordinary aesthetic rehabilitation that occurs in the final three episodes, which form a rough trilogy of Lynchian motifs and aspirations. Nevertheless, “On the Wings of Love” is still strongest when it focuses on love, and especially the love between Cooper and Annie and Ben Horne and Eileen Hayward. As Cooper puts it – speaking of Owl Cave but equally applicable to the romantic subplots – “I have no idea where this will lead us but I have a sense it will be a place both wonderful and strange”